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More HHHistory: Gispert’s Body

I never liked it that so many hashes celebrate Gispert’s death with memorial runs … personally, I think we should celebrate his birth.  But G’s death is more interesting than his birth, and that’s what hashers focus on.  Hashers like the Aussie harrier who recently asked me if I knew where G’s body was actually buried.

Backing up a bit, Alberto Esteban Ignacio Gispert (pronounced with a “j” as in juice) was born to a Catalan Spanish family in London on 31 July 1903. At some point his name was anglicized to Albert Steven Ignacio Gispert. After his schooling, Gispert joined H. S. Baker & Co and became a chartered accountant. In 1928 he applied for an overseas posting with Evatt & Co (later to become Price Waterhouse).

Working for Evatt & Co in Singapore and Malaya, Gispert ran with some of the existing harrier clubs there. In December 1938 Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick Thompson, and a few others founded a new harrier club in Kuala Lumpur. They called it the Hash House Harriers. The new club took off, and by its last pre-war event on 12 December 1941 had run 117 times. Gispert wasn’t there for that last run, being on leave in Australia at the time.

On-on to Gispert’s death: the Japanese invasion of Malaya also started in December 1941.  Gispert, a captain in the Selangor Battalion of the Federated Malay States Volunteers, tried to return.  By the time he got to Singapore, however, most of the Malayan peninsula was under Japanese control and his militia unit had disbanded.  On 21 January 1942, still in Singapore, he joined the 2nd Battalion of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders as a second lieutenant. During the early morning hours of 11 February 1942, while acting as officer in charge of a 2nd Battalion mortar platoon on Dairy Farm Road in Singapore, Gispert was killed by invading Japanese forces.

Gispert’s body was never identified, and he is most likely buried in Singapore’s Kranji War Cemetery in one of the graves marked “All Unknown Soldiers.”  His name is engraved on a memorial stone at Kranji Cemetery, along with the names of others killed during the invasion:

His name is also engraved on the family memorial in Brockley Cemetery, South London:

I’m indebted to three hash websites for most of this information: the Seletar H3′s Gispert and Singapore page, HashHouse.org’s History page, and the UK Hash House Harriers About G page.

——————–

Speaking of trying to set things straight, my friend Hazukashii, keeper of the excellent GototheHash website, sent out a long and impassioned email the other day, trying to combat false hash history.  One of the more common misconceptions hashers have is that Gispert and his friends were military men.  It is true that some of them, like Gispert, volunteered as peacetime reservists.  It’s also true that later, during WWII, almost all of them served in the military.  But in 1938, when they founded the Hash House Harriers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, they were civilians.

While generally agreeing with Hazukashii, I have to say I stumbled over his statement about the original hash group’s name.  The story most of us have heard, and the story most hash historians agree on, is that the name Hash House Harriers came from the mess at the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur where many of the founders lived.  They called the mess the Hash House, and that’s where they got the name for their new harrier club.  But Hazukashii says this:

The name “HASH HOUSE” Harriers was attributed to the lacklustre food served at the Selangor Club back in 1938. Well, the truth is that the food was quite good at the Selangor Club, and the name HASH HOUSE comes from the fact that most of the original members of the HHH lived at the Selangor Club, so “G” just called it the HASH HOUSE, hence the HASH HOUSE HARRIERS.

As far as I know, words like hash, hashing, and hashers were never associated with harriers prior to the founding of the Hash House Harriers in December 1938. Harrier clubs had been around in Singapore and Malaya since at least the mid-1920s. Gispert and some of the other founders ran with those clubs.  The club they founded in 1938, the Hash House Harriers, was initially just another harrier club.  But their particular club eventually spawned other clubs, and the descendents kept the “Hash House” in their names, and that’s where the Hash House Harriers split off from the Harriers.

No, I’m inclined to think the accepted story of the Hash House Harriers’ naming is the correct story, no matter how good or bad the food served at the Selangor Club.  We could just as easily have been the Selangor Club Harriers, come to think of it, and instead of calling ourselves hashers today, we’d be calling ourselves selangors.

At least some of the confusion comes from latter-day hashers writing about the harrier clubs of the 1920s and 1930s.  Here’s an example, written by Dick Limann of the Malacca H3:

The first organized Hash chapters . . . appeared in the first years of 1930 — the Kuala Lumpur Harriers, the Kinta Harriers of Ipoh and the Springit Harriers founded in Malacca in the year 1935. These Hash chapters were the first in Malaysia and in the world. Albert Gispert was a member of the Springit Harriers and after being transferred to Kuala Lumpur in 1938, he founded the KLH3. All Clubs ceased operation during the World War II. After the war the KLH3 was called Mother Hash.

You see what he did there?  He called them hash chapters, when in fact they were harrier clubs.  There was no “hash” until the Hash House Harriers.  Here’s another example, written by Mike Lyons of the Kuala Lumpur H3:

The idea of Harriers chasing paper was not new to Malaya in 1938, as there had been such clubs before in Kuala Lumpur and Johore Bahru, and there were clubs in existence in Malacca and Ipoh (the Kinta Harriers) at the time. “Horse” Thomson (one of the KLH3 founding fathers) recalled being invited on a run, shortly after his arrival in Johore Bahru in 1932, which chased a paper trail and followed basic Hash rules every week but was so magically organized that it had no name. The club flourished in the early 1930?s but is believed to have died out around 1935. The other branch of our ancestry comes from Malacca, where A. S. (‘G’) Gispert was posted in 1937 and joined a club called the Springgit Harriers, who also operated weekly under Hash rules and are believed to have been formed in 1935. Some months later, ‘Torch’ Bennett visited him and came as a guest on a few runs.

Mike accurately describes the harrier clubs that predated the Hash House Harriers, but then he describes them as operating under “hash rules.”  What actually happened, I contend, is that the new group founded by Gispert and his friends in December 1938, the Hash House Harriers, followed harrier rules.  We were harriers before we were hashers.  That differences grew over time between the Harriers and the Hash House Harriers, well, that was only to be expected.

Most of those old harrier clubs in Singapore and what is today Malaysia are long gone, or at least absent from the internet.  Sometimes, talking with hashers, I encounter people who scoff at the notion that harrier clubs predated the Hash House Harriers.  If any of those scoffers are reading this, I offer this newspaper column, from the 14 April 1934 edition of The Straits Times in Singapore:

But for sheer HHHistory it’s hard to top this 1883 New York Times article about a run put on by the American Athletic, the Westchester, and the New York Harriers (be sure to click on the link to read the entire article, which will convince you that the Harriers of 1883 were not one damn bit different from the Hash House Harriers of 2011):

Well, I don’t know about you, but my mug is empty.  Time for another visit to the bucket!

© 2011, Flying Booger. All rights reserved.


About Flying Booger  Hash House Harrier, man about town.


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2 comments to More HHHistory: Gispert’s Body

  • big bOre

    You wouldn’t believe (well, of course you would) the number of hashers I’ve heard retell the story of the founding of the HHH by mentioning something about “corned beef hash.” It’s bad enough that many don’t realize that paper chase or harrier clubs had been around a long time before G and Co. came along, but CORNED BEEF HASH?!

  • I cross-posted this entry to HashSpace, where it attracted the following comment from hash historian Amnesia of the Bicester H3:

    Comment by Amnesia 7 hours ago
    Delete Comment

    Hi FB

    As you are probably aware I spent a lot of time researching Gisperts early life, finding his birth certificate (thus his birthday), the house where he was born, and the UK family memorial in Bromley, and still have a huge amount of research documentation. During that time I spoke to a few people who knew G well. The story I heard from those who were there at the time in KL, or knew people who were there, and from his early life, all had the same thread. G learned hare and hounds in school in south London (confirmed ) so it was no surprise he joined a hare and hounds club in Malaya. The difference was he had a wicked sense of humour and mischief. In fact this most likely got him posted, first to Bletchley where he still didn’t conform, then to the colonies! His family were a very straight laced Spanish Catholic family and felt he was better out of the area. This wasn’t unusual in England society in the early part of the 20th century. It is claimed he introduced the sense of fun first, sport second, into the sport, signifying the difference. It is also claimed he came up with the name, but as hash house was a common name in English public schools for the refectory (eating hall) nearly all the English originals would have recognised the term. The point is that the name had resonance and the fun theme, introduced (arguably but at that time) by G was the diffence and took the H3 on a tangent from authodox hare and hounds (which has been a school sport in the UK since the end of the 18th C). Of course, hashing as it was in early years post 1938 was no where near hashing as we know it now. They were still coolnial gentlemen (not that in the early part of the 21st C we are not gentlemen) but a hash was still a gentile, Monday evening, away from the formal weekend with the ladies, activity. It was only in the late 1970′s, early 1980′s that the ‘free for all, no rules’ developed.

    OnOn

    Amnesia

    Bicester H3

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